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New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival 2011

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival 2011
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Days 1-3 | Days 4-7

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
New Orleans, LA
April 27-May 6, 2011

Day 1: April 29, 2011
The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival turned 42 this year. I've been to 25, and the thrill of anticipation entering the fairgrounds and crossing to the WWOZ Jazz Tent never grows old.

And Day One of 2011 on April 29 was all that could be hoped for and more.

First , gratitude for the weather—bright and sunny, with occasional refreshing breezes. And for the much-improved sound in the tent, whether due to new equipment or to a new stage crew. What had been often-muddy sound in the past is now crystal clear.

The best music was saved for last this day. The Golden Striker Trio, comprised of bassist Ron Carter, pianist Mulgrew Miller and guitarist Russell Malone, made elegant chamber jazz of a caliber not often heard since the heyday of the Oscar Peterson trios of more than a half-century ago. Over Carter's booming foundation, the others built dazzling melodic and harmonic creations, bouncing ideas off one another like kids with a beach ball.

There were moments of great delicacy, as when Miller caressed "My Funny Valentine," or when a gentle waltz evolved into the evocative "Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square," under Malone's tender ministrations. But, mostly, this set consisted of down-home, bluesy swing, as bass and guitar laid down a solid 4/4 for Miller's increasingly urgent solos. On the closing "Soft Winds," Carter and Malone kept goosing the pace, challenging Miller, who kept right up. The audience stood and roared. The hour was up, but all concerned wanted more, and got it: a soulful encore on "Bags' Groove."

Golden Striker Trio, from left: Mulgrew Miller, Ron Carter, Russell Malone

Earlier in the day, Anat Cohen soared and swooped joyfully, leading her impressive quartet. After her jittery restructuring of "Jitterbug Waltz," the clarinetist/soprano saxophonist turned a Cuban tango into a musical globetrot, with stops in Spain and her native Israel.

Highlights were Abdullah Ibrahim's hymn-like ballad, "The Wedding," and Cohen's "J Blues," a salute to her pianist, Jason Lindner, that featured a mesmerizing duet between bassist Orlando Fleming and drummer Daniel Friedman.

The day began with a sextet from the Thelonious Monk Jazz Institute, which draws aspiring players from around the world to New Orleans. The young men displayed both their playing and composing talents on several intriguing originals, particularly "Sir Charles," (for Charles Barkley), a bluesy number that bounced over some bumptious drumming by composer Nicholas Falk. "Desert Song," by bassist Hogyu Hwang, painted a serene landscape with constantly shifting keys, featuring passages of finely wrought three-part harmony for the horn section.

Anat Cohen

Germaine Bazzle, the city's "first lady of song," was in fine spirits and fine voice, singing, scatting and showing off other vocal tricks during 10 of her favorite old tunes. Nothing new, but it was great to witness again her joy in making music.

Mashup is a quintessential organ trio led by New Orleans drummer Terence Higgins, with Grant Green Jr. on guitar and Ike Stubblefield supplying spine-straightening electric jolts on keyboards. Their specialty is riffing on simple blues licks—a satisfying formula, especially when Higgins put down a second-line beat that turned the crowd into a sea of bobbleheads.


Day 2: April 30, 2011

John Boutte is a wonderful singer, but he's not jazz. And yet the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival slotted him into the WWOZ Jazz Tent some 10 years ago, and he was an instant hit. Thank goodness, he's been back every year since.

His blend of pop, folk, gospel and R&B is best categorized as "New Orleans music," much of it self-composed or in collaboration with friends. His "Down in the Treme," the theme song for the HBO TV series Treme, is a prime example.

John Boutte

Boutte was in great voice this year, putting his angelic pipes to work on favorites like "Sisters" and "City of New Orleans," remembering the late James Booker on the heart tugging love ballad "Let Them Talk," and lullabying the audience into reverent quiet on Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," a hymn about summing up a life on Judgment Day. He also sent a sympathy card to Japan on "Meaning in the Message," a prayer for recovery from his once-devastated city to a bereft country.

But mostly, Boutte was upbeat, slapping his tambourine, moving to the music's rhythm, indeed "jumpin' and havin' fun," as his hit song's lyrics advised.

Pianist Ahmad Jamal was the closing act, getting standing ovations before, During, and after his 90-minute set from an overflow crowd of more than 2,000 adoring fans.

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